Urban Sketchers em Lisboa

July 31, 2012

Urban Sketchers em Lisboa desenhando a cidade / Urban Sketchers in Lisbon drawing the city. Lisbon: Quimera, 2012. ISBN 978-972-589-212-1.

Why go to the trouble of publishing in hardcopy book format these days when we’ve all gone digital? It’s not inconsistent with the philosophy of the urban sketcher movement that urban sketchers should publish in this format. There are several reasons: to give urban sketching respectability in the art world by entering the academic marketplace; to imitate the sketchbook style which USK practitioners are used to and find attractive; to reflect the contemporary marketing sequence of idea-film-book-memorabilia which is at the heart of the multinational the entertainment industry, of which book publishing is a minor part and which keeps many urban sketchers in paid work.

Urban Sketchers Singapore is a vibrant and sensual book reflecting a city and its sketchers. This new book, Urban Sketchers em Lisboa is in similar sketchbook format and portrays ubrna sketching in the form of the conventional printed conference proceedings genre. It is restrained and authoritative compared to everything else. Indirectly, it’s a book about a city and San Payo’s short textual description of Lisbon is thought-provoking.

In Urban Setchers em Lisboa I’ve been exposed to wonderful new sketchers such as James Richards and Matthew Brehm. I found the essay on the urban sketcher movement by Ruth Rosengarten absolutely stupendous and the jewel of the entire book. Her analysis of the USK website entries, urban sketching blogs, drawing-as-testimony and of deep topography was excellent. She touched on reportage and the feel-good optimism of sociability among and portrayed by urban sketchers. Reportage on the grand scale of 9/11 and L’Aquila will only penetrate the consciousness of urban sketchers; normally we meet and sketch in order to escape the harsher aspects of urban life.  Similarly, (urban) sketching weblogs are devoid of pain, suffering and discontent, markers which we in today’s society shun in general, in an unspoken way, because we believe it will tip us all into the abyss of depression and nihilism. Life these days is, after all, aimed at the 13-year old American: innocent but vaguely sexualised, half-child half-adult  but otherwise vibrant, jolly and eternally optimistic. Art must affirm life; urban sketchers will continue to inhabit coffee-houses and shun the grotesque associated with everyday urban squalor and injustice. When there are no other human subjects to draw (Gonçalves and Salavisa cover the gaze in public of the sketcher, confrontational in the case of the former and remembered/memorised in the case of the latter). Urban sketchers have yet to write about the decline of sketching in public compared to times past as a result of universal concerns about personal privacy.

The book has the air of being put together very quickly, presumably based on the erroneous premise that anyone would forget the symposium or forget Lisbon in a hurry. The lectures read well in English I daresay because they were written and delivered in English; the workshop explanations appear to have been translated the other way and there are some rough patches. The translators would have worked from summaries by the workshop leaders: formal Portuguese takes on a rhetorical and lyrical qualities which can be hard to translate. The texts explaining the workshops are thus vague; I had to flick back and forth between the English and Portuguese versions to make sense of them (o declive pronunciado/the high slope, and so on). The techniques put into practice at the symposia are clearly designed to help urban sketchers decontruct their practice and re-assemble it later back home. USK symposia are plainly not for the faint-hearted, they seem to shake the foundations of individuals to the core.

Urban Sketchers em Lisboa is on high-quality glossy artpaper whereas Urban Sketchers Singapore imitates more closely the cartridge paper of sketchbooks. Urban Sketchers Singapore is written much more with the sketcher in mind and includes details such as dimensions and media, information which is unsuited to conference proceedings. If anyone wants to examine more closely the working methods of a particular artist, there is very often plenty of information (including pictures of them working on location) on the Internet: Anna Cattermole and Daniel Greene are ones I’ll be following up.

Urban Sketchers em Lisboa deserves to be in the hands of every sketcher and not just on the shelves of fine arts college libraries. Highly recommended!

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